Archive for the ‘real life’ Category

Sixty Hours

  • Home-cooked company lunch, courtesy of our wonderful office manager, Shamiran.
  • Meetings
  • Ordered a Livescribe 2GB Pulse Smartpen on Amazon.  Saw one at TechShop in a class a couple of weeks ago, very very impressed.  Read about it, compared options, pounced.
  • Discovering an unexpected skill: apparently I can play bocce tolerably well, at least with friendly co-workers
  • Watered our community garden bed, discovered at least one Sweet Double Red corn has set ears; helping some beans climb cornstalks (they were confused and needed a boost)
  • Marvelous Indian buffet at Bombay Garden
  • Sleep
  • Wake, with cats
  • No milk for coffee.  Bah.  Gird loins, grab keys.
  • Get milk.  Get coffee.  Get more boxes from JDM.   Get lost in The Granary and acquire the makings for a really spectacular quilt that will match our bedroom.  Stop by the vet and ask about alternatives to pilling Booster, who has figured out We HateZ PillZ.  Home.  Water garden.
  • Go to TechShop.  Build a Barebones (Modern Device) Arduino: apparently soldering circuitboard kits is much, much easier than PL-259 connectors and AMP serial pin connectors, which have comprised the bulk of my soldering experience previously.  Oh.  I put the socket in backwards.  Lovely board– doesn’t fry chip.  Instructor pulls chip, inserts chip other way.  Board happy.  Yay.
  • Home. Shower. Dress up.  Pack an overnight bag.  Drive to SF with spouse.
  • Dinner at Fog City Diner.  Overnight at Harbour Court Hotel.  Late check-in, upgraded to a suite with a view of the Bay Bridge.  A bottle of Merlot and a box of chocolates have been left for us, with a “Happy 11th Anniversary” card.   Lovely evening drinking wine, watching lights and water, celebrating.
  • Up early, laugh, sleep in, check out.  Sunny walk along the water to organic and delicious brunch at Town’s End.  Must go back, often.
  • Muni ride to Embarcadero, cash up, ticket up.  Ride a car that never was on the F-line: PCC in Brooklyn livery; no pre-war cars in that livery, sorry.
  • Long walk uphill to Museum of Craft on Sutter Street.  Marvelous Max Kahn exhibit.  Stunning 2.5D canvas work of 1994 – present juxtaposed with flat work from the 1960’s; Kahn’s roots have borne rich, strange fruit.
  • Obligatory shared single truffle from teuscher.  Raspberry Cordial.  Mmmmm.
  • A brief foray into Uggs Australia to inquire after the mythical Mini Classic.  It has been discontinued and sent to the outlets.  There will be No More.  Sadness.  “Would you like me to check the outlets on my computer and see if anyone still has your size?  They’re probably discounted since we stopped making them except in kids sizes.”  Two pairs located, my size, mail ordered, for about $25 more than a single pair would have cost.  Happiness.
  • Long, pleasant walk to MOMA.  Brief pause at Peet’s for refreshment.  Cool summer drink card now full, free drink next time.  Jasmine Lime tea much nicer than imagined.
  • Georgia O’Keefe, Ansel Adams: Affinities.  A special exhibition, and today is free admission day.  Huzzah.  Absolutely compelling.   Took many notes.   Closed out museum.  Closed out gift shop.
  • Walk back to Steuart Street.   Dinner at Ozumo.  Magnificent!  Best SF dinner I have had since I moved here in 1991.  Chocolate fondue for dessert.
  • Drive home.  Return 24 hours and 15 minutes after having left.   Cuddle cats.  Feed cats.  Cuddle cats more.
  • Check web comics.  Check Making Light.  Find pointer to Gunnerkrig Court; lose an hour, boom.
  • Blog.
  • Now, to sleep.

Things aren’t usually this busy, but it’s nice sometimes.


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No, not that, though we HAVE been eating a lot of beans around here since we got the slow cooker.

Our carbon monoxide detector went off today. We’re not sure why, and to confuse matters further, it said it was in Test Mode… yet it said it had seen (when? now?) 287ppm. The furnace, hot water heater, and oven were all going. I’m scheduling a check for all of the gas appliances, since we haven’t had them checked in more than a year– in fact, more than 2 years. The time just slips away.

The alarm is not going off now. By the end of today we will have several new CO detectors in the house, a mix of the battery-powered type and the house-current type. I’ve learned a number of things in the past few hours which surprised me, including things I was Just Plain Wrong about. Fortunately, not Dead Wrong. If the situation were different, though, my lack of correct information might have been fatal. So, let me share, just in case you know some of the same wrong things.

What to do first. If you’re like most people, including us, the first thing you do is go to the alarm and see what’s up, then start looking for the problem. No. Not even remotely correct. The FIRST THING you do is LEAVE THE HOUSE. Period. No questions. Grab all family members and pets and get out. Only then do you think about what to do next and make a plan of action. [1]

Why? Because in case your alarm went off only in the cumulative exposure fuzzy-headed stage, you may already be at risk of going to the next level of CO poisoning. It can be abrupt, and you could go from ‘mostly fine’ to ‘I can’t think and need to just sit down for a moment’ without any real warning. If it turns out to be that bad, you might never stand up again.

The next thing that everybody does is start opening up windows ‘just in case’. Apparently that’s also wrong. Instead, you should, theoretically, call the fire department, your appliance repair person, or your utility company and actually have them do a check. If you’re like most of us, you’re probably not going to do that, you’re going to change the battery in the thing instead (you did write the date of the last change on the battery with a sharpie, yes?) and if it goes off again, then you’re going to think about calling someone.

At least get folks out of the house first, and don’t go opening all the windows yet. “Many CO alarm calls have been classified as ‘false alarms’ because the homeowner has ventilated the home and turned off the equipment before firemen or technicians can measure the CO levels and find the source.” [2]

Another ‘everybody knows’ pseudo-fact is as long as you don’t have a skull-splitting headache, you’re okay. NOT! What most folks don’t know, and I sure didn’t, is that low levels of exposure commonly cause flu-like symptoms, including sniffling, red eyes, tiredness, nausea, mild headache. At medium levels of exposure, the ones that could tip suddenly depending on your physiology, that’s where you get symptoms like “severe throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion, fast heart rate.” [3]

If you tend to be sniffly and tired at home in the evenings or weekends, but feel better at work or out of the house, well, that could be a lot of things from needing to clean the ducts to vacuuming to dust mites. But it could also be low-level CO exposure, so add that to your list. Get yourself a CO detector that measures continual exposure and make sure you get your appliances checked annually.

Speaking of which, as long as the flame is blue, not orange we tend to think it’s ok. Leaky ducting can cause CO exposure even when the flame adjustment is ok, so don’t rule it out just because the flame looks right. Get somebody with a sniffer to confirm your in-house levels.

The CO detector should be in your bedroom, right? Maybe one of those little plug-in ones? Well, partially. Ideally, the CO detector should be either on the ceiling or about 5 feet off the ground, since CO is generally lighter than room air. I was unpleasantly shocked to find out that the only CO detector in our place was actually in the 2nd bedroom, which Mike uses as a workroom. Why? We don’t remember. Well, that will change by this evening!

We also tend to think that as long as the ‘test’ button works, the alarm works. Wrong, alas. Apparently very few CO or smoke detectors actually test the detector, rather than the audible alert. Pressing the ‘test’ button tests the NOISE circuit, not the detector, in the vast majority of detectors.

We purchased our detector when we moved in, almost 5 years ago. We assumed it was good ‘forever’ as long as we changed the batteries. Nope. The mechanisms they use to detect CO differ, and many of the small battery-powered ones use a colored disk that they monitor for changes, rather than more direct chemical means. Multiple sources say that most CO detectors have a 5-year lifespan but some may be valid for only a couple of years. Either way, we need to replace ours.

What kind should you get? Here in the States, I quote Underwriters’ Labs: Rather than looking for specific features, look for the UL Mark with the adjacent phrase “Single Station Carbon Monoxide Alarm.” [3]

Why? Because it’s required to have a silence button and to re-alarm within 6 minutes if the condition persists. Many detectors will just happily shut up and not go off again if you silence them. Low batteries can cause an alarm to go off, so if one does go off, after you think it’s safe (remember the first part of this article) then you can change the batteries and see if it goes off AGAIN.

There’s so much more, but that’s a good start. Don’t freak out, but take part of an afternoon and put some safety in the bank for you and your family. Have a safe n happy new year!

[1] http://www.carbonmonoxidekills.com/faq.htm
[2] Incredibly detailed and helpful info from our Canadian buddies: http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/maho/yohoyohe/inaiqu/inaiqu_002.cfm
[3] http://www.ul.com/consumers/co.html

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Not that you noticed I was gone, or only spasmo-sporadically updating things, as my ties to thee sputtered off and on, mostly off.

Well, foobar felgercarb snargleblarg. The good news is that we have IntarToobZ again.  The bad news is that can only get up to about 1.3 Mbps incoming, and 300ish outgoing.  So say we all, including the little speedy-test apps, who should know.

My suspicion that requesting an upgrade to Premium 6Mbps service was to blame was correct, but in an unexpected way.  The nice folks at AT&T had not actually messed up our connection (hush, o you cynics and scoffers).  Instead, trying to push a higher rate through the line had revealed a physical line issue that had not manifested at our previous SBCYahoo blazing 768Kbps level of connectivity.  (hush, I say)

A very pleasant fellow came out here today at about 9:30am and just left a few minutes ago, after 3 hours of outside line work.  He got us a fresh pair to what passes for the local infrastructure and did the extremely tedious phone work of contacting both departments needed to roll back the subscription from Premium to Elite (ooh, we’s ‘leet!).  At over 15k feet to the local Central Office, well, let’s say I was surprised in the first place when the automatic “do you qualify” checker came back and offered me the Premium option.  Apparently there’s a “weak 5Mbps” where the lines come into the local distribution point in our complex, and from there it’s all downhill as they’re farmed out to the various residences.

I think the extra measure of cheer for our visiting AT&T service guy might have come from contemplating the alternative.  How unpleasant his time would have been if the phone line hadn’t come into our place under the nice, dry carport!  He got to avoid the cold, nasty drizzle that’s been watering the garden all morning.  I offered to get him some hot coffee or tea, and he was surprised– isn’t anyone nice to service folks anymore?

So, welcome back, IntarWebZ, we salute thee.  Just not as speedily as we’d hoped.

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I’ve had great luck with gluten-free goodies this year. The new flour mixes in Bette Hagman’s “The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread” are great for baking quickbreads and cookies as well as bread, and the recipes in Rebecca Reilly’s “Great Gluten-Free Goodies” have let me add muffins to my breakfast repertoire again. Well, sheet muffins, the 9×13 pan’s gift to the lazy. 🙂

Rebecca Reilly has gone on to write a full-length book called “Gluten-free Baking”, but what I have is a little small-press paperbound book from 1997 which seems like the precursor to her later work. The muffin recipe is easily adapted to blueberry, cranberry-orange, and banana breads, and I’ve had good luck baking in a sculpted braided pan as well as a glass sheet pan.

I haven’t tested this yet, but the claim is that Bette Hagman’s 4-flour mix can be substituted cup for cup in recipes calling for ordinary white wheat flour. You just have to add xanthan or guar gum to provide the elasticity, and possibly a little extra leavening. The 4-flour is 3 cups tapioca flour/starch (Asian market!) 3 cups cornstarch, 1 cup sorghum flour, 2 cups garfava bean flour. If you decide to grind your own garbanzo/fava flour, well, I hear you’d better have a fairly bronto stone-burr or steel-burr mill that’s rated for tough jobs. The little tabletop mills may not cut the mustard. Ooh, mustard flour, that might be a neat addition to a cornbread. But I digress.

Bob’s Red Mill has started selling the latter two in Whole Foods and other natural food stores. I find ordinary (Banned from) Argo cornstarch works fine, and get the tapioca flour from various large Asian markets for about half the cost of the stuff available at Whole Foods (sorry, Bob).

RR is a Cordon Bleu graduate, and apparently in her new book has taken the BH flours to a new level with arrowroot, coconut, and other specialty flours, but I find the BH stuff works for me.

Rose’s Modified Muffin Mix

based on Rebecca Reilly’s “Basic Muffins”
1.25 cups 4-flour gf flour or Bob’s Red Mill GF Baking Mix
.25 tsp sea salt (round it a little)
2.25 tsp baking powder, aluminum-free please
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp xanthan gum (no magic, centaurs, or puns)
2 eggs, large or jumbo
1 cup milk (I use 2%, any kind ok)
2 Tbsp olive oil (little extra if FF milk)

Mix the wet ingredients together and blend well. Put the dry ingredients into a sifter and sift in one big batch into the wet ingredients. Stir in the dry by hand or with a mixer. Add the FLAVOR ingredients and stir or mix in. Pour into a greased pan and bake. 9×13 glass pan, about 40 minutes at 375F. 8×18 metal decorative loaf pan, 40 – 45 mins at 400F. Metal knife will come out clean but damp when done.

Note that these breads are not as sweet as commercial mix or grocery-store-bakery breads. Try making a loaf before adding or removing sugar, though, you might like the flavors shining thru better.


* substitute half-cup water, half-cup pulpy OJ for the cup of milk, add in WET stage
* generous quantity (1-2 tsp) grated orange zest
* 1 – 1.25 cups loosely chopped fresh cranberries (freeze for easier handling, and add a bit to baking time)
* optional 3/4 cup loosely chopped pecans or walnuts
* .25 tsp each of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves (or a bit more if you like it really jazzed up)
* mash 2 ripe bananas in the bowl and mix well at WET stage; do not subtract anything else!
* .5 tsp nutmeg, .25 tsp cardamom, dash of pumpkin pie spice mix
* 1 cup loosely chopped pecans or walnuts
* 1 cup frozen blueberries (big huckleberry type)
* 1.25 cup frozen small wild blueberries
* dash of pumpkin pie spice, .5 tsp nutmeg, .5 tsp cardamom
* nuts don’t work so well here, but I have thought about adding a half-cup of almond meal for extra protein and to hold the blueb’s together better. Hmmm. 🙂

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Times are tough for some of us, less so for others. If you’re fortunate enough to have the opportunity and means to contribute to a 401K account through your employer, you may have topped out your contribution around now. How about putting an extra $25 or $50 of that to work for charity, in time to count for this year’s taxes?

More and more charities have easy monthly sign-up plans now, where you can give $10, $20, or however much per month. That’s like, giving up one latte a week and getting a coffee instead. But over the year, it adds up for the charity you’re helping. Maybe you’d find it’s easier to give up something small to help somebody else than to save it for yourself. Or decide you want to give up two tall mochas a week and buy yourself something nice at the end of the year with the fund from one of them!

Anyways– this is on my mind and I figured I’d blog my own favorites list. I try to add one every year or so, so that I kind of get used to it and can do a bit more. And if you’re not in a position right now to give money, just smile at one more person a day and that will go a long way toward making the world a better place, too.

  • Heifer Project International; Provide farm animals, seeds, honeybees, to people, who then pass on the gift locally. A bootstrap program making a real difference all over the world.
  • Grameen Foundation; Micro-loans that enable small businesses and bring people out of poverty. A $10 – $20 loan can do things like enable a weaving cooperative to market directly from their village, or help people fund a local mill to grind grain.
  • International Foundation of Red Cross and Red Crescent; Humanitarian aid for disaster victims. You know about their efforts for earthquakes, floods, and the like, but did you know they also work locally to do things like house and help families burned out in apartment fires? Note that IFRC is the parent foundation; “National Societies” like the American Red Cross organize the work by country. IFRC has an online directory of National Societies by country.
  • Hesperian Foundation; Publishing books like “Where There is No Doctor” and “Helping Children Who Are Blind” in multiple languages. All of these books are available for download via their site, btw.
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation; Defending digital liberties, fighting vote fraud, and so very much more.
  • Amnesty International; Working to free the unjustly imprisoned worldwide, and providing hope to those who have been shut away in some political oubliette for speaking their mind and trying to change things.
  • Doctors Without Borders; Sending medical help where it is needed, sometimes into great dangers, to help people in need. Volunteer doctors, nurses, EMTs, pilots– but they need gas money for the planes, medical supplies, logistics, etc.
  • Natural Resources Defense Council; Working to protect wilderness, wild areas, animals, plants, biodiversity. Not one of those “don’t touch it, we don’t care if you starve” orgs, NRDC works on transitioning communities to ecotourism, sustainable wild harvesting, and giving people economic incentive to preserve for long-term good rather than destroy for short-term gain.
  • Organic Consumers Association; Promoting sustainability, fighting the dilution of ‘organic’ (eg, factory farm confinement dairies fed on organic corn), working with communities on food safety.

There are a number of other groups I support, but they don’t seem as universal or uncontroversial to me, like MoveOn, VoteSmart, Weston A Price Foundation.

Please comment with some of your favorite charities, it’s always great to hear.

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It’s getting close enough to election time, and various voter registration deadlines, that this excerpt from RISKS that I posted elsewhere is due for a refresh.  Will you be able to vote this year?  Take a few minutes soon and make sure that you are registered AND have whatever ID or papers your polling place will require.

Addressing the Challenges of Identification and Authentication in American Society
by Peter Swire, Cassandra Q. Butts, Center for American Progress, 2 Jun 2008

How individuals identify themselves in our country grows more complex by the year. Just last month, 12 nuns were turned away from voting booths during the Indiana presidential primary because they lacked state identification
(none of them drives), a stark reminder that the recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld Indiana’s voter ID law poses lasting consequences to our democracy. And two years ago last month the personal identification data of 26.5 million veterans were lost from a government laptop, the latest in a
series of data breaches that threaten the integrity of everyone’s

Those 12 nuns are among 20 million other voting age citizens without driver’s licenses, and they join those 26.5 million veterans and many millions of other Americans who suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of what we call the ID Divide-Americans who lack official identification, suffer from identity theft, are improperly placed on watch lists, or
otherwise face burdens when asked for identification. The problems of these uncredentialed people are largely invisible to credentialed Americans, many of whom have a wallet full of proofs of identity. Yet those on the wrong side of the ID Divide are finding themselves squeezed out of many parts of
daily life, including finding a job, opening a bank account, flying on an airplane, and even exercising the right to vote. …


Full report (pdf)

Identification and Authentication Resources page

(Via RISKS-Digest, RISKS-LIST: Risks-Forum Digest Sunday 8 June 2008 Volume 25 : Issue 19

Peter G. Neumann, moderator, chmn ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy

***** See last item for further information, disclaimers, caveats, etc. *****
This issue is archived at <http://www.risks.org&gt; as
The current issue can be found at

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I was looking for a reference in my notebooks, and then just browsing. A note from 12/28/1995 seems worth quoting today:

“For all of us, it is the public expression of desire that is embattled, any deviation from what we are supposed to want and be, who we are supposed to behave.” Dorothy Allison, “Skin: Talking About Sex, Class And Literature”

It is not what we want, it is the act of wanting that is both a political and a personally threatening act. Even to want anything as simple as a flower, a sunset, a cookie, is to bring forth the hidden “I”. “I want.” I am I, I have an identity rather than just a function.

Wanting is the ultimate subversive act to those who depend on and make use, or misuse, of the functions we carry out– wife, mother, secretary, woman to leer at, etc. We may not even know to what functional role someone has assigned us, until we express a want not consonant with that role in that person’s presence. SRChalup, Cat Leaping Notebook

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Full Disclosure and why Vendors Hate it (Jonathan A. Zdziarski)

(via RISKS Digest)

Jonathan A. Zdziarski, May 2008

I did a talk recently at O’Reilly’s Ignite Boston party about the exciting
iPhone forensics community emerging in law enforcement circles. With all of
the excitement came shame, however; not for me, but for everyone in the
audience who had bought an iPhone and put something otherwise embarrassing
or private on it. Very few people, it seemed, were fully aware of just how
much personal data the iPhone retains, in spite of the fact that Apple has
known about it for quite some time. In spite of the impressive quantities of
beer that get drunk at Tommy Doyle’s, I was surprised to find that many
people were sober enough to turn their epiphany about privacy into a
discussion about full disclosure. This has been a hot topic in the iPhone
development community lately, and I have spent much time pleading with the
different camps to return to embracing the practice of full disclosure.

The iPhone is shrouded in secrecy on both sides – Apple (of course) uses
their secrets to instill hype (and gloss over many otherwise obvious privacy
flaws), while the iPhone development community uses their secrets to ensure
they can exploit future versions of the firmware to find these flaws (along
with all the other fun stuff we do). The secrets on both sides appear to
have not only hurt the product, but run the risk of devolving an otherwise
amazing device into the next surveillance fear. With the military and
federal agencies testing the iPhone for possible use, some of the long-held
secrets surrounding the iPhone even run the risk of affecting national
security. …


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Plz! No paparazzi at naptime!

Our bestest buddy the Booster is doing really well and has regained much of the weight she lost this past fall, when we feared the worst. None of the tests we ran turned up anything: she was pronounced incredibly healthy for a 13.5 year old kitteh, but she was growing noticeably skinnier and I could feel more bones along her back.

I started reading the labels on the canned food, the treats, and dry food in the pet store. The dry food has 2 to 2.5 times the protein of the canned stuff, and more carbs, and the treats were similar. I wondered if the canned food was simply not providing enough protein and carbs to maintain Boo’s muscle mass and keep her warm during the colder fall/winter weather. I got some high-quality dry food and started offering them free-choice dry food again. They were all over it with great enthusiasm.

When I listen to sidewalk, I can hear ocean! … What you mean, no?

Within the week, Boo stopped losing muscle mass. Her hind legs, which were getting so thin that I could feel the tendons near her paws, plumped up again. She’s regained all her muscle mass, though not much fat, and her neck and back are noticeably more muscular. I’m really shocked that high-end canned food made with good ingredients is not enough to keep her healthy. I am very glad that she is fine again, and kind of shocked and scared that I could have been accidentally starving her! OK, not *starving*, the vet said that she was a far cry from that, but it was a startling change in Boo that I picked up on pretty quickly.

All’s well now, but I wanted to post about it in case other folks’ aging kittehs are starting to get bony. Don’t just chalk it up to the aging process. See if different or better food, or combinations of food, will work. Feed high-energy treats like Greenies, bits of cheese, etc, to help your fuzzball build up strength. And don’t give up! I look forward to many more happy years with the Booster Bunny. They don’t stay with us forever, but we want them with us as long as possible, as long as they are still enjoying being here. She’s back to her sassy self!

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After a long negotiation process between my DNS provider and the registrar of the domain thieves, virtual.net is back where it has belonged since early 1993: with me.  Huzzah!

My advice, in retrospect, is that if your domain is hijacked, immediately file with ICANN, over the protests of your registrar if necessary.  Fortunately I got my domain back, but if the remote registrar had not finally given it back (after making my registrar send some kind of “we won’t sue you” papers), I’d have been SOL, as the ICANN waiting period for opening a case had already expired.

How did I eventually lose the domain?  My provider offers both secure and non-secure login pages, and I believe that I accidentally logged into a non-secure page while at a public wireless location.  At first we thought my email provider had been compromised, but we found nothing but my home network access in the logs, and no suspicious activity.  The fact that the thieves had to change the contact email to “inbox@greatdomains.com” to get the transfer key is further proof that they had no access to my email.

If your provider offers non-secure login pages, make a bookmark to their secure page and only use that bookmark for login, never surf there directly or use a sidebar login on a provider’s main page– unless it says “secure login”.  There’s really no excuse for offering non-secure logins in this age of ubiquitous wireless– I’ve mentioned to my provider that they’re a bad idea, we’ll see if they go away.  I was on my laptop, with a new hard drive, and I hadn’t pulled over my bookmarks yet, so I think that’s how I screwed up.

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